This morning in Barcelona I had tea with my wonderful friend Viva. We had not seen each other for about nine or ten days, since my family has been on a major road trip throughout Spain. (This is a long time for us, since usually we see each other twice a week!) She and I had a lot to catch up on.
"How was it?" she asked after greeting me warmly. "Did you love the cities in the south? Isn't Sevilla charming?"
I smiled and agreed effusively that southern Spain was great. "We especially loved Córdoba!" I added. This was my way of politely avoiding the fact that actually, I'm not currently a big fan of Sevilla. Not at all.
You see, we'd just wrapped up three spectacular days in Granada. I could wax rhapsodic about Granada (and did, here!) so, after having such a great experience, we all held very high hopes for Sevilla too.
"I've heard Sevilla is even more charming than Granada!" I told Señor Aventura as we zipped down the highway in Chico Suave. "They say Sevilla is the town you really want to stay in and enjoy for a while. Too bad we have only two nights there!"
The day was sunny and bright, and our drive from Granada to Sevilla took less than three hours. It flew by and felt very easy and light.
"Kids, look at those olive trees!" I exclaimed as we looked out the car windows at massive rows of trees covering entire mountains like green stripes. "I've never seen so many planted trees in one place in my life!"
"We're definitely in olive country," my husband nodded. "Kids, this is where all of the great Spanish olive oil comes from... and also those delicious Spanish olives!"
The soil was clay-colored and at times even reddish from iron content. Its contrast with the green trees and bright blue sky was intoxicating.
"This is amazing," I sighed blissfully. "Have I mentioned how much I love this country?"
My husband smiled warmly as he gazed out upon the open road. "Yes, it's pretty great here."
Our children groaned. "Yes mom, you guys tell us that every day!"
"Well," I squeezed my daughter's hand and gave her a big smile from the front seat. "We all have our place in the world. I hope one day you find a place that feels as much like home to you, as this does to me!"
So, we were all basically in spectacular spirits when we rolled into Sevilla.
That didn't last too long.
First, we had to wait for about an hour outside of the AirBNB apartment we'd rented, for the owner to arrive. The neighborhood itself was okay... not terrible, just sort of blah and a little run down. No biggie, but it was quite cold outside and waiting for an hour on the street with children wasn't that fun. The kids grew very restless. Señor Aventura started to work on fixing his bicycle. We got hungry.
"When can we go inside, Mom? Where is she? Why can't we go into the apartment? It's cold out here!"
The owner finally showed up, and she was nice. She showed us how to work the stove, washing machine and heaters. She took us to the roof to introduce us to the clothesline and clothespins. We commiserated over the recent American presidential election and politics in general.
Her apartment turned out to be fine with a home-like, cosy quality. It was very small and fairly dark in terms of light or windows, but we do fine in small. We love small. The five of us can fit happily just about anywhere and we are very happy to sleep on couches, air mattresses, etc. We're definitely not picky and very low maintenance in terms of our travel needs. If an apartment is clean and safe (and has a bathroom!!!!) nothing else matters much.
We got settled in and decided to take a stroll into town.
This was the part where I started to dislike Sevilla.
The walk between our apartment and downtown (at least the way we mapped it) turned out to be maze-like and stressful to navigate. Imagine countless very narrow, winding streets with only one sidewalk about 1 foot wide (sometimes no sidewalk at all) and yet taxis or cars racing down these same streets about every three minutes, coming around curves directly toward your children super fast. They did not slow down!
By this point, our boys were beyond silly.
"Hey guys, can I take your picture?" I asked them. "In front of the Cathedral?"
"Sure!" they giggled. Here are the photos of that um, priceless memory...
"I'm hungry!!!" Little Angel began to cry. "Why couldn't we just stay in the apartment? Why do we have to walk so much! My feet hurt!"
Desparate times call for desparate measures... we were clearly on our way to meltdown city.
Faster than you can say "Ay yay yay" my husband and I bought seven churros from a sidewalk vendor and loaded our children up with carbs and sugars... which any parent knows is a fantastic decision guaranteed to make things so much better. Hahaha!
"Look at the castle kids!" I exclaimed cheerfully, aiming now for distraction.
"Isn't it beautiful?"
"Why are those horses all chained up to those carriages mommy?" Little Angel replied mournfully, pointing in the opposite direction instead. "It's so sad they do that to the horses. It's like torture!"
She pointed to the way the horses were hooked up to carriages and obliged to trot on the road right next to quickly speeding cars. "The men keep hitting them with those long stick things, mommy. They're mean!"
We spent the next three hours walking our sugared up children around town, checking out the most famous sights of Sevilla, including its Plaza de España.
"Kids, this is where they filmed Star Wars II, Attack of the Clones!" Señor Aventura told our kids excitedly.
"Really dad?" Soccer Dude said listlessly. "I don't recognize this at all. Are you sure?"
"Hmmmm... well, that's nice." The kids were totally unimpressed.
My husband and I took some pictures, since the architecture of the Plaza (created for a 1929 World EXPO) was actually very cool to look at. The Scientist took a picture of us too.
"Honey, what are Soccer Dude and Little Angel doing over there?" I asked as I finished taking photos.
"Um, I'm not sure. Looks like they're jumping up and down and slapping their hands? Maybe a game?"
"What are you guys up to?" I called to Little Angel and Soccer Dude.
"Mommmmmm!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is so much FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We are killing mosquitoes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
"Yeah mom! There are millions of them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Look, I just killed another one!"
I came over to where the kids were near the edge of the water in the canals. A whirring cloud hung out above their heads and the children were smacking flying insects with their hands and shrieking with delight.
"Oh wow," I nodded, "There ARE a lot of mosquitoes here. Kids, let's get going. Let's get out of this place."
Returning to my husband's side, I cracked a sideways grin. "No big deal, they're just busy getting the Zika virus."
"No," my husband shook his head. "No Zika in Spain. I'm sure those are just gnats."
"Um... okay," I laughed. "Thousands of whining, biting little gnats at dusk over the murky water of an old castle canal. Sure."
I called the kids again to come back to us.
"Hey! Are you guys hungry?"
"YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" They came running.
We finally made our way through the sea of people into a little restaurant not far from the Acazar.
"Where are you all from?" our waitress asked us in Spanish.
"We live in Barcelona," my hubsand replied in perfect Castellano.
"No, but where are you REALLY from?" she asked him again, with emphasis and a raised eyebrow.
"We are from California," he replied again in perfect Castellano.
"I'll bring you an English menu," she frowned.
"Spanish is fine," he replied firmly, in Castellano.
"Okay," she answered him in English.
The food was just okay, portion sizes very small. "I'm still hungry mom," announced The Scientist.
"Me too!" said Little Angel.
"Me too!" added Soccer Dude.
The chef came back to our table to bring our second order, and he took a fancy to Soccer Dude. After he put the food down in front of the kids, he started to tease Soccer Dude. "Are you paying tonight?" he asked. "Do I bring the bill to you?"
Soccer Dude, who is shy with strangers, looked down at the table.
Then, I kid you not, the chef put his big hands on my son's little shoulders and began to massage them. He continued to talk to us while rubbing his back... laughing and telling us jokes.
My eyebrows rose all the way to the ceiling. Um, really? Random strange man, you are all over my nine year old kid! I shot a look at my husband and then stared at Soccer Dude, who obviously felt really awkward and uncomfortable. "Are you okay?" I mouthed at him. Just as I was trying to find the words in Spanish to say something, the chef left.
"It's just a cultural thing," my husband assured me. "They love kids here in the south. That kind of thing isn't viewed as 'weird' like it would be at home."
"Okay, well that 'love' is a little different than what we are used to." I turned back to our son. "If anyone ever makes you feel uncomfortable, in any country, you have the right to tell them very politely to please stop touching you, or just move away. Do you want to come over here and sit next to me?"
"Yes please," he said. Soccer Dude came to my side of the table. The chef continued to visit our table and to single out Soccer Dude. Pretty soon, we left. "I didn't like that place, Mom," Soccer Dude frowned.
There was no way the kids could walk back all the way to our AirBNB at this point, so we tried to take a taxi home. We approached several taxis but none of them would agree to take all five of us.
Since bedtime was crucial for our littles, Señor Aventura opted to get una cerveza and watch some of the local singers seranade the crowd, while I took the kids back to the apartment. The taxi ride took what felt like forever, it was so convoluted to get from point A to point B through the winding city streets. My kids began to squabble quietly in the back seat. The taxi driver pretended not to notice as I whispered to them... and I tried to remember if we were driving in the right direction. It was a loooonnnnnngggg ride.
At last, we were home for the night!
By the time Señor Aventura arrived back at our apartment, we'd both separately come to the same conclusion that we'd had enough of Sevilla.
"This isn't really a bike-friendly town," my husband explained. "It would be a lot better for me to ride tomorrow somewhere with more moutains. I wouldn't mind exploring somewhere else."
"I hate walking the kids around on these streets," I agreed. "I'd much rather take them to a smaller town with wider sidewalks and fewer tourists. What about Córdoba? Your mom recommended it highly!"
"That actually sounds great," he heartily agreed. "I'm fine with leaving first thing tomorrow morning and heading to Córdoba. I've seen enough of Sevilla for now. It isn't that bad, but I don't love it."
Which explains why our Familia Aventura made an unexpected detour from Sevilla to Córdoba and were immediately glad we'd done so... despite having to clean three different AirBNB apartments (Granada-Sevilla-Córdoba) and repack all suitcases and the car on three consecutive early mornings.
In the next installment of our Road Trip Diary, we will share with you the immense beauty and history of Córdoba... a small but magnificent city we fell in love with at first sight!